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Structuralism and Poststructuralism

AnthropologyFollowers And Critics

Lévi-Strauss's work on kinship gave rise in Britain to "alliance theory," whose leading practitioners were Edmund Leach and Rodney Needham. They challenged the prevalent classification of kinship systems in terms of matrilineal and patrilineal descent and suggested instead a classification based on patterns of marriage. Needham attempted to distinguish between "preferred" and "prescriptive" cousin, but Lévi-Strauss himself refused to admit the pertinence of such a distinction, and Needham encouraged one of his students, Francis Korn, to publish a case-by-case refutation of Elementary Structures of Kinship. The work of Abraham Rosman and Paula Rubel in the United States and of Françoise Héritier in France represents other applications of structuralism to kinship theory.

Lévi-Strauss's influence has been even more pervasive, if more diffuse, in the study of symbolism. Edmund Leach and Dan Sperber have published important general works on the subject. Numerous ethnographies have incorporated structural approaches in their analyses of the symbolic systems of specific cultures, including Stephen Hugh-Jones's discussion of Amazonian cosmology, Sherry Ortner's analyses of Sherpa rituals, Louis Dumont's account of caste and pollution in India, and Luc de Heusch's comparative study of Central African myths of kingship. Although Mary Douglas has remained persistently critical of Lévi-Strauss's work, her work on purity and pollution shows definite affinities with structuralist approaches.

Certain Marxists and materialists such as Claude Meillassoux and Marvin Harris criticized Lévi-Strauss for his radical idealism, his interest in mental structures rather in the material circumstances underpinning them; other Marxists, however, notably Maurice Godelier, sought to reconcile Marxism and structuralism. In addition, critics such as Pierre Bourdieu have pointed out that Lévi-Strauss's concern with abstract thought rather than with the process of thinking leaves no room for human agency.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Stomium to SwiftsStructuralism and Poststructuralism - Anthropology - Followers And Critics, Poststructuralism And Anthropology: Foucault And His Impact, Derrida And Deconstruction, Bibliography